5 Theoretical Concepts - Sociology

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MARXISM - Karl Marx

  • Marxists see society as being based on conflict between 2 classes - the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
  • The bourgeoisie wants the proletariat to work hard, this keeps them in a position of power. Marxists would argue that this power struggle is complex as both classes need each other.
  • Capitalism is based on private ownership and the maximisation of profits through the exploitation of workers. Capitalism emerged in the UK after the feudal system and during the Industrial Revolution.
  • In a capitalist society, the bourgeoisie exploit the proletariat by paying them low wages for their work so that they can make greater profits.
  • A capitalist society requires mass production.
  • Marx believed that society was Capitalist, but wanted the proletariat to revolt and create a Communist society. A capitalist society is based on profit and private ownership, whereas a communist society is based on totalitarianism and all property is owned by the state.
  • Alienation is necessary as it is the only way production can be quick and efficient.
  • Proletariat are in a state of false class consciousness - this means that they are not truly aware of their class position, they believe they can become wealthy but this is false.
  • In our time, Neo-Marxists have attempted to revise, modify and update traditional Marxism.
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FUNCTIONALISM - Emile Durkheim & Talcott Parsons

  • Functionalists believe that everyone in society is in agreement and live in harmony due to the fact that they share the same norms and values.
  • Functionalists present 3 key ideas:
  • 1. Society is like a human body (organic analogy). They argue that the parts of a body all work together to effectively function. In the same way, society is reliant on all interconnecting parts to work effectively.
  • 2. Everyone in society shares the same norms and values (value consensus). Parsons argued that everyone shared common norms and values that were instilled through the agents of socialisation. This means that society runs smoother as key ideas and beliefs are shared among everyone.
  • 3. Everything in society has a function. All the institutions in society function to socialise people into the norms and values of society. Durkheim believed in the importance of social solidarity in order for institutions to function together. For example, PE and drama are subjects at school which show social solidarity.
  • Functionalists argue that some crime is functional as society operates to correct behaviour that breaks norms and values and institutions apply sanctions to those who go against societies shared norms and values.
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  • Feminists believe that society is dominated by men and that men have more power than women. This idea is known at patriarchy.
  • Not all feminists agree on the extent to which society is patriarchal therefore they have divided themselves into different types of feminists.
  • Liberal Feminists - believe the differences between men and women are due to gender role socialisation. Their concern is fighting for equal rights.
  • Radical Feminists - hold the most extreme views, men are the enemy. Believe women should separate themselves completely from male domination/control.
  • Marxist/Social Feminists - recognises both the role of capitalism and patriarchy. In capitalist societies, women hold and less powerful position.
  • Black Feminists - argued that 'white feminists' have ignored the position of ethnic minority women. They believe they have a double disadvantage (being black and a woman). Concerned with issues associated with particular backgrounds e.g forced marriage.
  • Post Modernism Feminism - challenges assumptions around gender identities, suggests there are now a range of identities from which women and men can choose from.
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INTERACTIONISM - Howard Becker & Stan Cohen

  • Interactionists look at how people interact with each other. They study how people behave in small scale situations.
  • Interactionists believe that our identity is formed through our interactions with other people.
  • 'Looking glass self' - you see yourself as others see you (Cooley).
  • 'Self fulfilling prophecy' - if someone sets expectations, you will reach them.
  • We 'self fulfill' behaviours of masculinity/femininity. 
  • Becker suggested that there is no such thing as a deviant act. It only becomes deviant when other percieve it as such. He says that the word "criminal" becomes your master status.
  • A moral panic occurs when society is scared that a person/groups behaviour is a threat to social order. The media exaggerates it and suggests that it is dangerous to society.
  • For example, the mods and rockers in the 1960s were the folk devils in a moral panic. Fighting broke out between 2 groups of bored youths in Clacton on Sea and the media stereotyped what they would wear which made them stand out. The press exaggerated the damage and the size of the disturbances, therefore turning the mods and rockers into folk devils.
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  • Postmodernism is a term used to describe society in its current state. 
  • Postmodernists are interested in explaining how and why society is the way it is at the moment. They would look at things such as the power of the media, the growth of celebrity culture, the development of social media and the flexibility that people have over their identities.
  • Terms commonly associated with postmodernism are popular culture, multiculturalism, consumer culture, global culture etc.
  • In the Postmodern world:
  • Work - moved away from factory production, more flexible working, no more 'jobs for life', increase in self employed people.
  • Culture - society is dominated by media, culture is based around consumer goods, rise in 'hybrid culture'.
  • Identity - influenced by the media and popular culture., people can buy into identities, much more flexible.
  • Globalisation - global companies (Mcdonalds), Hollywood movies, pop musicians e.g. Justin Bieber, global events (Olympics).
  • Knowledge - people have less faith and confidence, decline in the influence of religiont, less confidence in science, increase in political apathy.
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